Monday, January 31, 2005

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How did the Arab media cover the election?

Hassan Fattah provides an interesting answer in the New York Times:

Sometime after the first insurgent attack in Iraq on Sunday morning, news directors at Arab satellite channels and newspaper editors found themselves facing an altogether new decision. Should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves?

After nearly two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a blood bath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story on Sunday morning; the voting was.

Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the voting, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls....

For many Arabs, the strong turnout on election day proved a unique opening, one that made the debate on television screens more nuanced. On Al Jazeera, especially, many Iraqis lauded the process even as analysts from other Arab countries and Iraqis tied to the former government of Saddam Hussein denounced the elections for having occurred under occupation, and for having been centered on sectarian issues.

"Things used to be a negotiation between political parties where you scratch my back and I scratch your back," noted one commentator, Abas al-Bayati, on Al Jazeera. "Now, this new government will approach all the parties as having the backing of the people. It will have legitimacy." And that legitimacy should allow the government to face down the insurgents, he added.

With the relative lack of violence, many nerves appeared calmed. Iraqis, especially, may have been emboldened by the coverage.

Read the whole thing. One wonders whether the election coverage will embolden residents of the Middle East beyond the borders of Iraq.

UPDATE: In Slate, Michael Young provides another rundown of how the Middle Eastern media covered the election. It has a great opening paragraph:

If there was one message from the Iraqi election on Sunday, it was that newspapers are often vast repositories of conventional wisdom just begging for demolition. What had been broadly pegged by the media in recent months as a likely "illegitimate" election that might lead to an Iraqi civil war appeared to be nothing of the sort (even though 36 people died and nearly 100 others were injured in insurgent attacks). On Monday, the international press was scrambling to make up for having been so wide of the mark.

This would apparently include the New York Times editorial page, as Andrew Sullivan observes.

posted by Dan on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM


Adam Smith's Invisible hand at work winning hearts and minds -- and dollars! for the TV folks -- in the Land of the Purple Finger. It's a keeper.

Al Jazeera is uprofitable and depending -- like PBS?-- upon state subsidies. Qatar is trying to find a buyer. Who knew? Maybe that explains the recent wake-up call to facts on the ground.

posted by: Sissy Willis on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

I'd be interested as well to know how state television in Iran covered yesterday's election.

The Iranian government is in a curious position. Officially it favored the elections, urged Iraqis to vote, even made it possible for Iraqis living in Iran to vote. Yet elections for a government enabled to write a national constitution, without a veto by clerics or the security services they control, is precisely what the Iranian clerical leadership has denied the Iranian people for the last decade. And the Iraqi voters yesterday have ties to Iranians as strong as any they have to other Arabs.

I don't discount at all the potential that people in other Arab countries might get ideas from media coverage of the Iraqi elections. But the immediate implications for Iran's internal politics might actually be greater and do us more good.

posted by: Zathras on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

One wonders whether the election coverage will embolden residents of the Middle East beyond the borders of Iraq.

It could hardly do otherwise. And, this is as I suspected it would be, the intent of the Bush administration all along.

posted by: Bithead on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]


Don't count on this. One of the great arguments for Isreal back in 1948 was that it would create a democratic state that other Middle Eastern nations would emulate. Unfortunately, the anti-semitic passion in that part of the world has prevented anyone from taking any lessons from the Isrealis.

The same may turn out to be the case now, as anti-American hatred drowns out any willingness to take positive lessons from Iraq. I hope that's not the case -- I just realize it's a possible outcome, given the pathologies that still govern that region.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

Perhaps true in 48, AM, but this time they don't have the Jews to blame for it all.

posted by: Bithead on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

The Iraqi elections received uniformly favorable coverage in the Saudi media. Saudi Arabia is having its first nation-wide elections starting next month.

This Arab News editorial which I blogged even uses the Iraqi elections to push the Saudi government to move faster toward representative government.

posted by: John Burgess on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

Al-Jazeera is unprofitable because the people who control Middle Eastern companies are all tied in with the Arab regimes al-Jazeera criticizes, and so won't buy advertising on it.

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

Here are Al Jazeera's Sunday English-language stories about the election:

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

Imagine what may have happened had western media covered the entire war and post-war process using the same decision making process that the Arab networks used on election day. I'm not suggesting that news agencies ignore the Coalition death toll, but surely there were other things happening? Can't it be argued that by putting the 'insurgency' front and center 24/7, the enemies of democracy were heartened and the proponents of freedom dismayed? Is that the purpose of our news?

posted by: blaine on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

Why are Iraqi elections fundamentally different than Palestinian elections in terms of democratizing the MiddleEast?

posted by: Jor on 01.31.05 at 09:46 AM [permalink]

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